The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 2, 2012

Stressing safety: PennDOT memorial honors workers killed in duty

Randy Griffith

— Eighty-four crosses draped with orange safety vests and crowned with construction helmets stand along Route 22 outside Ebensburg as a silent reminder of the cost of distracted and aggressive driving.

PennDOT’s Traveling Worker Memorial is making a stop outside the department’s Cambria County maintenance office to remind motorists that a number of work zones are still operating and stress the importance of slowing down and avoiding distractions around highway workers.

“Motorists who speed, drive distracted or just drive carelessly in work zones pose a great risk to not only the highway workers but also other drivers and themselves,” PennDOT district executive Thomas A. Prestash said.

“This is a very serious issue, and it is crucial that all drivers understand the importance of remaining alert and driving safely through work zones.”

The crosses represent the 84 PennDOT employees who have lost their lives on the job since 1970.

Safety has always been a priority for PennDOT, spokeswoman Pam Kane said.

“There has been a really big push over the last few years to make sure we are not just keeping people out there on the road safe, but our own workers as well,” she said.

Records show there have been five fatalities among state road workers in Cambria and Somerset counties, dating back to 1969, when PennDOT was the Department of Highways.

• Louis Schellhammer, 47, of Frankstown Road, died Aug. 9, 1969, at the Highways Department garage in Ebensburg. He was working on a truck tire when the rim exploded, causing severe head injuries, The Tribune-Democrat reported at the time. He left his wife, Grace, and three children, Diana Budash and Terry and Sharon Schellhammer.

• John Stavish, 59, of Barnesboro, died Jan. 25, 1971, when he fell from the running board of a cinder truck near Barnesboro. His obituary said he left his wife, Catherine, and three children, John, William and Betty Stavish.

• Willis L. Ling, 59, of Friedens, was killed Feb. 21, 1972, when he was crushed between a snowplow truck and a payloader in the Penn-

DOT garage at Somerset. He had a wife, Erma, and two sons, Robert and William Ling.

• Robert D. McClintock, of Confluence, died Aug. 20, 1988, after being struck by a car. McClintock was flagging traffic at an accident on Route 40 near the Youghiogheny Dam. Obituary information could not be located for McClintock.

• Michael R. Romanchock, 47, of Windber, died Sept. 19, 1989, after being struck by a vehicle on Route 160 in the borough. His survivors included his wife, Diana, and sons, Eric and Paul.

The dates of the local fatalities remind motorists that caution should be the watchword all year long, Kane said.

“It is safe to say that department workers are on the front lines all the time; not just in construction season,” Kane said.

Each memorial cross is emblazoned with the honored worker’s name and year of death.

It’s important to remember the memorial includes only PennDOT employees, Kane said. Many highway projects include crews from private contractors. All those workers are at risk.

In 2011, there were more than 1,800 work zone crashes in Pennsylvania, resulting in 21 deaths, including one highway worker. In District 9, during the same time period, there were 64 crashes, most of which involved an aggressive or distracted driver, Kane said.

Any motorist caught driving 11 mph or more above the posted speed limit in an active work zone, or who is involved in a crash in an active work zone and is convicted of speeding, faces an automatic 15-day license suspension.

Nearly 600 motorists had their license suspended for work-zone violations last year.

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